Part 1 ITEM NO.
DRAFT REPORT OF THE HEAD OF HOUSING SERVICES
To the Lead Member for Housing Services
On: 10th March 2005
TITLE: BT Safehome
RECOMMENDATIONS: That Lead Member for Housing confirms the preferred
option for progressing the BT Safehome monitored alarm proposal.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: A proposal was made to install 2000 monitored
alarms within the Little Hulton area. Costs for the scheme would be paid for
through additional service charges. Initially it was advised that these costs would
be eligible for housing benefit, however, since the initial Lead Member report
was submitted further advice has been received and the costs may in fact not be
eligible. We are seeking approval to terminate the contractual commitments we
are currently under and also guidance on how you would like us to proceed with
the scheme and this report sets out 4 available options.
Lead Member Report 15th January 2003 Provision of Monitored House Alarms
to properties within a pilot area.
BT Safehome contract
ASSESSMENT OF RISK: High - The consequence of installing 2000 monitored
alarms, assuming they are eligible for Housing Benefit could result in Housing
Services paying out £3.25 million if the Audit Commission takes the decision that
alarms are not eligible.
THE SOURCE OF FUNDING IS: Housing Benefit and additional service
LEGAL ADVICE OBTAINED:
Chidi Ebizie – 793 3123 Law and Administration
Nicki Smith – 793 3083 Law and Administration
FINANCIAL ADVICE OBTAINED:
David Wright – 925 1140 Finance and Administration
Joanna Hardman – 922 8792 Finance and Administration
Bev Connor – 793 3282 Salford Direct
Pam Prendergast – 793 3282 Salford Direct
DWP Housing Support Unit
The Audit Commission
CONTACT OFFICER: Vicky Ryan 0161 603 4260 firstname.lastname@example.org
WARD(S) TO WHICH REPORT RELATES: Little Hulton
KEY COUNCIL POLICIES: These may include any planning, regeneration,
social cohesion and inclusion, economic, health and care policies.
LINKS TO PARTNERS IN SALFORD THEMES: 2. A safe City of Salford
LINKS TO CABINET PRIORITIES AND PLEDGES
Making services better reflect the needs of the people of Salford
Reducing crime in Salford
Enhancing life in Salford
LINKS TO HOUSING STRATEGY PRIORITIES:
Delivering decent homes in the private sector
Delivering decent homes in the public sector
LINKS TO PERFORMANCE: Are any performance indicators, targets, outputs
or outcomes affected by the report? ie BVPI’s, Housing Strategy Action
milestones or LPSA targets.
EQUALITY IMPACT ASSESSMENT: If appropriate confirmation must be given
by the Housing Performance Team.
1.1 On 15th January 2004 Lead Member for Housing expressed in principle support to
pilot the provision of monitored house alarms to both Council Tenants and Private
residents. Private residents would contract direct with BT and pay for the service
direct. For Council properties there were various options on offer as detailed below.
However, these options were reliant on the fact that alarms were eligible for Housing
Benefit. This may not be the case and so this report presents further options.
1.2 Void Properties
When a property becomes empty, and is a category of void that we would expect
to re-let reasonably quickly, an alarm would be fitted.
The alarm would be monitored and act as a void alarm while the property is being
prepared for re-letting
When the property is re-let, the provision of a house alarm would become a
mandatory part of the tenancy agreement. As this is the case the alarm charges are
passed onto the new tenant and these are eligible for housing benefits.
1.3 Tenanted Properties
Existing tenants would be offered 2 options as follows
Mandatory – Tenants would be offered the option of having the alarm and
costs added to their tenancy as a mandatory service charge. This would mean
the costs would be eligible for housing benefit.
Non – Mandatory – Tenants would be offered the option of having the alarm
and costs added to their tenancy as non-mandatory service charge. This would
mean the costs would not be eligible for housing benefit.
2.1 Residents within the pilot area were consulted on various aspects of the scheme
including the options highlighted above. The consultation results are as follows
2.2 There were a total of 2000 questionnaires sent out in the Little Hulton area and
365 (18%) of these were returned.
81% were Council tenants,
73% received housing benefits
39% of residents had a functioning alarm
61% of respondents stated that they did not feel safe living in this area
59% of respondents reported that they had at least one burglary whilst living in the
79% of respondents stated that they would be interested in the scheme
86% said that having a monitored alarm would increase their sense of security.
2.3 Council tenants
82% said they would be interested in taking part in the scheme
65% said they wanted the scheme on a mandatory basis
23% said they wanted the scheme on a non mandatory basis
12% said they did not know on what basis
18% said they would not be interested in taking part in the scheme
3.0 Eligibility for Housing Benefit
3.1 Since the original report was written and the consultations had taken place based
on Salford Direct’s initial interpretation of the regulations relating to eligibility,
further clarification was sought from Department for Working Pensions Housing
Support Unit. They advised that in their opinion such charges did not relate to the
provision of adequate accommodation but to the security of the accommodation and
would therefore not be eligible for Housing Benefit. After receiving this information
we sought further advice from the Council’s legal department and the Audit
3.2 Legal Services advised that the regulations clearly state that a service charge is
ineligible if it is not connected with the provision of adequate accommodation, but
they consider that, particularly in the circumstances described, the provision of an
alarm system is connected with the provision of adequate accommodation. In a
memorandum dated 08/06/2004 it was stated
“Quite apart from the fact that benefit is payable for systems such as door
entry systems, if accommodation is in an area where the crime level is such that an
alarm system is considered necessary, I would suggest that accommodation without
an alarm may not be considered adequate”
“Obviously, it is ultimately a matter of interpretation, and I have been unable
to find any case law on the subject, but my view is that the DWP is applying a too
restricted view in relation to the regulations.”
3.3 Further to this, a letter was sent to the Audit Commission on 24/11/04. The Audit
Commission advised that they would rely on guidance issued by DWP as to whether
100% of the charges would be eligible and suggested that the issue be taken up
directly between the City Council and the Department for Working Pensions.
3.4 Further research has been carried out and it has been found that one other Council,
Bradford City Council, has implemented the scheme on a mandatory basis and has
been receiving payments through Housing Benefit. However, they will be audited in
September and a final decision regarding whether 100% of the payments are eligible
will not be made until then. Bradford City Council are fully aware of the risks.
3.5 The situation regarding Eligibility for Housing Benefit is confusing. Taking into
consideration the guidance from the Department for Working Pensions that the alarms
are not eligible and also advice from the Audit Commission the risks would be
extremely high to implement the scheme on this basis. This is reinforced by the fact
that only one other Local Authority has pursued this route and only on the
understanding of the risks involved.
4.0 Contractual Position with BT
4.1 On The 19th March 2004 the Council signed a contract with BT Safehome in order
to secure 2000 alarms for the scheme at a cost of £4.50 per alarm per week. The
contract was subject to resident consultation and stated “if the Customer considers
that there are not sufficient numbers of tenants willing to take up the Equipment, the
Customer will in its absolute discretion terminate the agreement forthwith”.
Guidance has be sought from the Councils Legal department who advised that
following the consultation with residents and the fact that the alarms are not eligible
for Housing Benefit the contract can be terminated immediately.
5.0 Options available
5.1 Having considered the legal advice, level of risk, contractual commitments and
customer expectation, it is recommended that the contractual commitments are
terminated immediately by way of a letter. Should the Lead Member decide to
continue the scheme this would then be done under a new contract, however this
means a likelihood of increases in the costs of the alarms. There are four options
available for decision.
Instruct the Authority’s legal section to make representations and put forward
legal arguments to Department for Working Pensions on their interpretation of
the regulation before any decision is made to proceed to install the alarms and
housing benefit is put into payment
Bradford have introduced the scheme already on a mandatory basis. They are
currently claiming Housing Benefit for which payments have been made. In
September a decision will be made by the Audit Commission as to whether
alarms are actually eligible. An option for us would be to wait until this
decision had been made before pursuing the scheme ourselves.
Offer the scheme to Council Tenants on the basis that it is not eligible for
Housing Benefit and add the charges to their rent as an additional service
charge. If residents want to participate in the scheme the alarm will then
become a mandatory provision on the property for 5 years. If the property is
re-let within this time, the new tenant would have to pay the charges until the
five year contract runs out.
Do not offer the scheme at all.
6.1 That the views and comments of Lead member are sought as to the most
appropriate option to progress the scheme.